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  • Brian Fishbach

Jim Thorpe Day Established 50 Years Ago Today

On April 16, 1973, President Richard Nixon signed into law Proclamation 4209, signifying that day be recognized as Jim Thorpe Day.

Twenty years prior in 1953, Thorpe passed away from heart failure in Lomita, California. But in the 65 years prior, Thorpe lived as one of the greatest athletes of all time.

Born in 1887 in Prague, Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), Thorpe was a member of the Sac and Fox Nation. He would become one of the early superstars of professional football. He also earned Gold medals at the 1912 Summer Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden in the Decathlon and Pentathlon.

As a baseball player between 1913 and 1919, Thorpe played for the New York Giants, Cincinnati Reds and Boston Braves.

He won three National Football League Championships with the Canton Bulldogs (the first-ever NFL team). He played for several other teams, including those which were only comprised of native players such as the Cleveland Indians, Oorang (Ohio) Indians.

Unfortunately, Thorpe passed away in poverty.

In 1963, a decade after he passed away, Thorpe was inducted in the first-ever class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

At the end of the 20th century, he was in the top ten of several publications' "Greatest Athletes of the Century" lists: the Associated Press named him third and ESPN named him seventh. An ABC Sports poll in 2000 said that he was the greatest American athlete of the 20th century.

NDNSports reported in 2020 about a less-known injustice inflicted upon Thorpe by the International Olympic Committee:

Six months after his historic win, revelations surfaced that Jim was paid what amounted to room and board while playing in a minor league baseball division in the summers of 1909 and 1910. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) promptly stripped him of his medals, removed his name from the official record, and refused him the opportunity to defend himself. They awarded the gold medals to the respective silver medalists, despite the fact that both refused official recognition.

In 1983, following a decades-long effort by supporters - and only after the Swedish Olympic Rules for the 1912 Games were uncovered and legal action threatened did they relent - the IOC reinstated Jim Thorpe in the Olympic record and presented his family with duplicate medals.

But the official Olympic record still erroneously lists Jim as a "co-champion" in his events.

The petition was part of the Bright Path Strong Movement, which "was created to share and amplify authentic Native American voices and stories, past and present. Representation matters, and it’s our mission to shine a light on our REAL history, our people, and our resilience — in our own words."

In July 2022, The International Olympic Committee (IOC) reinstated Jim Thorpe as the sole champion of the decathlon and pentathlon in the 1912 Stockholm Summer Olympic Games.

There is a biopic in development, titled Thorpe. According to the production's website, it's "an inspiring sports drama about the Indigenous multi-sport athlete Jim Thorpe. Aided by the legendary coach, Pop Warner, Jim attempts to overcome the devastation of the Native American boarding school system to achieve Olympic glory at Stockholm in 1912 and fulfill the words of his father to 'show the world what an Indian can do.'”

No release date has been set yet.

Below is the text of President Nixon's proclamation honoring Thorpe 50 years ago today.

37th President of the United States: 1969 ‐ 1974 Proclamation 4209—Jim Thorpe Day
April 16, 1973
By the President of the United States Of America A Proclamation In the early years of this century when Americans of racial and ethnic minority backgrounds were reaching for greater dignity and opportunity among their fellow-citizens, and when excellence in sport commanded increasing admiration across the country, one magnificent athlete from the Oklahoma frontier came to world renown as a pioneer in both of these developing trends.
His name was James Francis Thorpe; his roots were in the Potowatomi/Sac and Fox Tribe of the American Indians; and his prowess on playing fields from Carlisle Institute to the Stockholm Olympics remains legendary in this, the 85th anniversary year of his birth.
The history of college and professional football, world decathlon and pentathlon competition, and major league baseball is permanently enriched by the contributions of this noble American who has been acclaimed by some as the greatest athlete of the first half of the 20th century. And millions of young people who aspire to achievements transcending a disadvantaged background continue to take heart from Jim Thorpe's example.
Now, Therefore, I, Richard M. Nixon, President of the Unites States of America, in accordance with Senate Joint Resolution 73, do hereby proclaim Monday, April 16, 1973, as "Jim Thorpe Day" and call upon the people of the United States to mark this day with appropriate observances.
In Witness Whereof, I have hereunto set my hand this sixteenth day of April, in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred seventy-three, and of the Independence of the United States of America the one hundred ninety-seventh.


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